Chapter Twenty-Nine

"Bella, you need to get out of here for a little while."

Isabella Swan glanced up from the e-mail correspondence she'd been reading through. Jared stood in the doorway, his thick arms crossed heavily over his chest. Seth stood just behind him, his eyes anxious as he looked her up and down.

"I'm busy," she said tiredly. A yawn worked its way out of her mouth nearly immediately afterwards, the force of it nearly cracking her jaw. Her eyes burned from sitting in front of the computer Paul had had made for them in the study. She'd been pouring all she had into making the Reservation a place for other Shifters to come home to. She had so many legal papers that needed signing, organizing, and careful storage that she hadn't even had the time to worry over her and her men's rocky relationship. She didn't have time to fret over Victoria. When she wasn't in the study going through paperwork she was helping her father with organizing his new home, a single-story Ranch in Forks. The home-insurance had covered the loss of everything in the fire, though it could never bring back all of their pictures and heirlooms, and so he was able to buy all new things for the new house.

"You're too busy, Bella." Jared maneuvered into the room, his bulk filling up the tiny space nearly to bursting. At least it felt that way to Bella. Any one of them radiated power and authority, which made even the largest rooms seem smothered in their presence. Jared's hand lowered to her seated form slowly, his eyes pleading with her. "Come on, sweetheart. Please come with us. You've been in here almost an entire week since we were given permission to go through with establishing the Sanctuary. Just – just take a break. One day! Please?"

She nibbled lightly on her lower lip, her gaze shifting between Jared and Seth slowly. She'd been working so hard lately and the guys had left her alone knowing that this was something she needed to do. They'd brought her meals into the study for her most days and though she didn't eat much of what they brought, she was grateful for their caring. She'd been anything but civil with many of them, but they still made the effort to see to her health. Her body weighed heavily with exhaustion, though, since she'd been too determined to do what needed to be done that she'd neglected herself and her acquired sleeping patterns.

How long has it been since I've gotten a full night's sleep? How long since I've settled down like I used to and taken a nap?

She couldn't remember.

Glancing back over her shoulder to the bright computer screen Bella released a gusty sigh. Turning the chair around so that she could reach the screen without stretching, she slid her finger lightly across the touch-screen before initiating the Lock.

Relief and content washed through her from the two men behind her – and more distantly the others who were so tightly bound to her.

She took Jared's large, hot hand cautiously. He pulled her up onto her feet with exaggerated slowness. She watched his eyes scan her up and down and saw the wrinkle between his brows caused by his worry for her.

Both of them looked as if they were about to open their mouths to voice a protest to whatever it was they saw that they didn't like, but thought better of it. She could hear their teeth snap back together with the swiftness of it. Jared's lips tightened into a firm line. Seth shifted behind Jared to get her attention. Their shoulders collided as the younger of the two tried to wiggle his way into the room.

"How about some breakfast?" Seth's hand settled very lightly onto her lower back, his fingers wrapping around her slight frame a tad. Jared's eyes zoomed in on his friend's fingers which he could see wrapped around from behind. The fact that he could see them seemed to be his undoing.

"We shouldn't have let this go on."

"Jared," Seth warned, his hold on her back turning heavier. The hand she held in Jared's hand was growing very hot as his grip increased slightly.

"Fucking bitch," Jared muttered under his breath. With his free hand he scrubbed a frustrated path over his face. Bella felt horrid seeing the tension in his body and knowing that she was causing his distress. Even Seth was wound-up beside her. They still needed to work things out – the others still needed to speak the words she so desperately wanted to hear and show her that they meant it – but she was obligated to take care of herself. She needed to consider her own well-being if only for their sakes.

"How about some French Toast?" She forced cheerfulness into her voice that she didn't necessarily feel. Pleasant surprise suffused both of their faces. "Actually, French Toast sounds absolutely delicious. Maybe some scrambled eggs, too?"

"Coming right up!" Jared cheered, his smile delighting her. As wrong as it was to say or think, she was proud of herself for pleasing him. The bond they shared as well as her friendship with each of them made so that everything she did would be for them and their happiness as a mated group. They were meant to be together no matter how much grief they suffered due to one of their foolhardy actions.

Jared kissed the back of her hand before hurrying off to the kitchen, his eagerness endearing.

Seth led her at a more sedate pace after his brother. For the first time in such a long time she felt only peace coming off of her youngest mate. She leaned into him as they walked, his body heat and strength relaxing her overwrought body better than even a soak in a hot-tub. For being the youngest of the guys you'd never mistake him for it. He was only a year older than her, yet carried himself as if he were as old as the Ages, his body as developed as a young man in his prime.

She was led to sit down at the breakfast counter in the kitchen. Jared was already busying himself with making her breakfast.

"You don't need to make my breakfast for me, you know." She spoke softly as Seth took the seat beside her. Both of them froze as if stuck in time. Their brows lifted in a synchronized way. Bella snickered before waving her hands dismissively. "I know. I know. You want to. I was just saying that you don't need to."

"Of course we know that we don't need to." Jared glanced down at her indulgently. "We want to. We like to take care of you especially after all we've done and with what you're doing for this tribe."

Nodding silently, Bella looked down to her hands, which were folded neatly on her lap. She glanced back up after a few moments to look between both of her mates. "So what are we doing today? I figure it's safe to assume that I'm not going back to work?"

Seth beamed at her. "We've got two more weeks before Christmas. We thought that you might like to come out with us to go find a tree?"

"Oh my God!" She gasped, her eyes widening comically. "I was so caught up with everything that I didn't think…oh, I have so much left to do! Not to mention school. Ugh! How am I ever going to do all of this?"

A large hand settled over hers on her lap. Seth's other hand tapped beneath her chin prompting her to look up into his deep brown eyes. His gaze was intense and earnest.

"We'll help you." His words were gentle, but by no means less impacting. "We'll help you with everything if you'll just let us."

"But," she began only to have Seth settle his thumb over her lips. Her first instinct was to poke her tongue out and lick the digit silencing her, but she tamped it down with a little persistence. It wouldn't do at all to do such a thing.

"Bella…we know how hard you're working to do everything. You don't have to. We want to help you. We need to. Paul saw the GED papers. Were you planning on dropping out of school, baby?"

She sighed deeply, a headache working its way behind her eyes. Her hands rose to cradle her face and hide her expressions from them. She hadn't wanted anyone to know about applying for the GED classes online. She felt like a failure for not being able to attend school like a normal person her age, but there was so much going on. There were too many things that needed to be handled. She didn't see any way that she could go to Forks school any longer on a regular basis and still pass. She couldn't be a normal girl anymore.

"I don't see as I have a choice." Her voice began to crack with emotion. "I've missed so much time and I'm falling so far behind. Plus I can't fit into the town like I used to, even when the Cullens were around. You can't hide being with multiple men forever. I mean, remember when Collin and Brady talked about it even before they Shifted?! Everyone at least has an idea! With Victoria coming back into the equation and then trying to bring the other Shifters to La Push…I just…I can't."

"Shh," Seth shushed her, his arms banding around her to lift her onto his lap. Instinctively she turned her face into his chest and cried softly. Her fingers moved from hiding her face to kneading his pectorals. She rubbed her nose into his heat, her body all but aching for the physical comfort he was offering her.

"None of us think badly of you, Bella," Jared assured from across the counter. His voice was as soft as a lullaby in her ears. "You're doing what you believe is best and I can't say that I disagree with you. You're so very brave to be doing as much as you are for the Sanctuary. You're putting everyone and everything before yourself and I have never met a stronger woman."

"Bella, there's no shame in getting a GED instead of a Highschool Diploma. You're completing your education, baby. You're proving that you're willing to go the distance towards making sure you are educated to society's standards." Seth kissed her temple periodically throughout his comforting speech, his chest nearly rumbling under her nose. "Please, baby, if you have anything that you need or want help with, just ask us. Any of us. You're never going to go it alone, Bella. We're all here for you."

Instead of acknowledging his words, though deep down she felt them to be true, Bella just allowed herself to get lost in the feel of his arms around her. No matter what happened between them she felt most at home in any of their embraces. She didn't feel like a whole person without them with her and physically connected somehow. A part of her hated that the bond they shared as mates is what made it impossible for any of them to walk away from each other, but a whispering, persistent voice in her subconscious told her that they were all meant to be together. They all just…fit. They were made to be together, both through the good times and the bad.

A short time later Jared set several plates down before them. Thick-sliced French-Toast and enough scrambled eggs to nearly overflow one of the mixing bowls were foremost, but a steadily increasing pile of bacon lay just within her reach that Jared kept adding to from the still sizzling frying pan.

"Would you like some cinnamon butter for your French-Toast, Bella?" At her enthusiastic nod, Seth lifted her off of his lap and back into her own seat before going to the fridge to get the whipped topping. "Milk or orange juice?"

"Milk, please." A sudden thought struck her and she began to look around the room. "Where's Lily?"

Both males growled a little. It was Jared that answered, seeming to refuse to look at her. "The little furball is in the Laundry lounging in the basket of newly washed clothes. All my shit's covered in fur now."

"You're all fur anyway, Jared!" She snapped very lightly, not truly put-off by his dislike of her kitten. Such was the way of cats and dogs. Lily had been her near constant companion since she'd returned home. It was simply nice for her to know that the feline had finally become comfortable with leaving her side and exploring her new home.

She still smirked to remember Sam finding the cat having thrown-up a hairball onto his rarely-used sneakers the last time she'd ventured off on her own.

Though the guys may gripe about how her new kitten chose to live her life in their home, Bella knew they would never hurt the little creature. Lily was special to Bella and therefore untouchable by them.

"Here you go." Seth set the milk down before her before lathering cinnamon-butter onto her French-Toast for her. Instead of complaining over the treatment she forked a helping of eggs into her mouth.

Bella smiled around her bite of perfectly cooked egg, her wonder at their cooking ability not lost in the moment of quiet. She didn't know where they had learned to cook, but she was grateful for it nonetheless. While she enjoyed being in the kitchen and dishing up meals to fill the bellies of her loved ones she appreciated not having to do it out of necessity. If someone else could cook – at the very least toast some bread or boil some water – it pulled some weight off of her shoulders. She could take her chance at relaxing just the tiniest bit instead of constantly fretting over the wellbeing of everyone else.

"So, you wanna go find us a tree?" Jared asked as he took his own seat beside her. He beamed at her, a slice of bacon sticking from his mouth in a kind of gluttony-version of a cigar. She giggled at the face he gave her, but thrilled inwardly like a child opening presents on their birthday at the mention of picking out a tree.

"Of course!"

With that Bella rushed through finishing her breakfast, amidst the urging of her mates to slow down and chew, before bounding away from the counter towards her room. She needed to get a quick shower in and a change of clothes before they went outside. Fuzzy pink slipper-socks and an oversized pink nighty with black yoga pants did not make for a good tree-hunting outfit. Comfortable, but not functional.

"Dress warm, Bella. It's incredibly cold out today." Jared warned her, his tone both worried and demanding all at once. She waved him off over her shoulder.

"I will."


Several hours later Bella found herself comfortably ensconced in her white fur coat, boots, thick thermal leggings hidden underneath grey snow-pants, and greyed mittens on her hands. She practically bounced on her feet in the thick layer of snow of one of the nearby mountainous ranges as Jacob and Sam worked together to tie a fair-sized pine tree onto an oversized sled which was hooked up to a harness attacked to Seth's back.

When they'd said they were going to go looking for a Christmas tree she had assumed they'd be going to the local tree-farms to look. Never in her wildest dreams would she have guessed that they'd be taking her on a wolf-ride through the rugged terrain of Mount Olympus to a secluded valley of trees at its base closest to La Push.

She was giddy.

"It's so perfect," she drawled, her happiness radiating out to her men. Not all of them had come, but that didn't matter so much in the grand scheme of things. They shared a bond, an emotional link to each other. What she felt, they felt. Her joy was theirs to share in.

"Took you long enough to pick one out," Jacob poked fun, the muscles in his arms tensing just the slightest bit as he tightened a set of ropes over the felled tree. He winked at her to show his jest – as if she couldn't hear the playfulness in his tone. "I thought the first one was perfect."

"It was crooked." She turned her nose up at the memory of that tree. It was the right height for the raised ceiling in the main living room of the Cabin, but when she rounded it she noticed that there was an unseemly gap in the rows of branches. True; the tree wouldn't be placed into the center of the room so not all of it would be seen, but she was nitpicky when it came to Christmas. It was her favorite holiday. She couldn't allow something that was an eye-sore into her home.

My home, hmm? The inner her chimed, smugness dripping through every syllable. No matter what it'll always be your home with them, won't it, sweet cheeks?

Oh shut up.

"You could have put that hole in the corner." Sam instantly clamped his mouth shut at the baleful look she set upon him. One did not imply that a Swan woman could possibly conceive in desecrating their long-passed-down traditions for Christmas. Finding 'the tree' was one of the biggest to-do's for the holiday season.

And then comes the decorating.

That would come soon enough. She needed to purchase all new decorations since the ones she'd had before were burned in their old house. It was a sorrowful thought, knowing that 'Baby's First Christmas' ornament and great-great-grandma's Angel tree-topper were nothing but ash on the perpetually moist ground of Forks. They'd lost so many heirlooms. So many memories tied to various objects littered throughout the house.

Shaking the morbid thoughts off, Bella resigned herself to making a trip out to Port Angeles. She knew of a small, family-owned, but wonderfully stocked store that sold holiday goodies year-round. She'd gone there to purchase Thanksgiving table-toppers and various knickknacks when she'd imagined inviting her mates' families for a hopefully pleasant dinner, but that plan had gone up in smoke. Quite literally it would seem.

"Hand over the tarp, Jared." Bella turned her attention back to the men working before her, none of them wearing any more than their cut-offs. Barefooted and shirtless, Bella shivered just imagining the horrors of the frigid air hitting her own skin had she been thusly dressed. Seth whimpered and nudged his nose into her back.

All of them stared at her intently, their focus entirely absorbed into her and onto her absolute comfort.

"Oh, I'm fine," she hurried to reassure them. Her hands batted furtively before her. "I was just thinking of how cold I'd be if I was dressed like you guys are!"

Sam smirked at her. "Which is why you're bundled up all nice and warm in your coat and mittens. You let us know if you get chilly and we'll pull out the blanket. All right?"


The only one carrying anything was Seth. They'd steadfastly refused to allow her to carry the 'substantial burden' of a backpack before they'd left the Cabin and besides that Seth had already been rigged with a harness made by Boone, who happened to be a leather-craftsman, and could carry a hell of a lot more weight than she. They'd draped several sets of ropes over his haunches, a tarp to cover the tree once they'd found it so needles weren't blown forcefully off of it at the speeds in which they ran in wolf-form, and an overly thick, feathered comforter for her if she grew cold.

Caring bastards, she thought fondly.

It was at times like this, these wonderfully peaceful moments where they were nothing but considerate of her and her needs, that she felt she could never find a reason to fault them. She wished for it to always be like this, but knew deep down that wishing for such things was fruitless and foolhardy. There was no such thing as a perfect relationship. There were always ups and downs. She needed to not only understand, but also embrace the fact that there would be times that their connection would sour.

Things just simply could not be perfect every moment of every day.

Where would the fun be in that anyway? Bella rolled her eyes inwardly at the teasing inner voice cheerily humming a tune in her head. Sometime she wondered on the part of herself that prompted her to act so recklessly or think naughty thoughts, but it wasn't a true worry. That piece of her kept her grounded to reality. That part of her kept her from spiraling down into a realm of sameness. It kept her from the monotony of a boring, tiresome life that she had no urge to live in.

She startled to see her men all stiffen where they stood before she was surrounded by a wall of muscle. Her men shook violently and growls erupted from their throats. They all but glowered at the nearby tree-line. Peaking between a bicep and back she could see only thickly veiled woods.

"What is it?" She asked quietly. She backed up so that she was pressed firmly into Seth's massive, warm body. He was comfort. He was safety. He was home. They wouldn't let anything get to her.

"Vamp," Jake spat, his back vibrating. Bella clenched her teeth together as the sound of popping and snapping bones reached her ears. Right before her eyes she watched as her men shifted their forms into the hulking beasts of their half-shift. They looked so much like wolfmen in this form. She would have been frightened beyond imagining if she were in the other side of their protective circle.

There was no noise to accompany the vampire's entrance into their territory. No clash of thunder like that time with the Cullens in the clearing where they'd played baseball. There wasn't an ominous wind blowing through. There wasn't even the sound of wildlife chirping or clicking nearby. It was all very quiet and anticlimactic.

Still looking through the gap made by Sam's arm and side she could see the dark form of the vampire in question gliding past the trees up to them. He wore a pair of pale grey slacks and a nearly blue button-up shirt draped by a nearly black suit jacket. His dark skin stuck out to her in the whiteness that surrounded him, his dreadlocks pulled back into a low-slung ponytail. Eyes as red as rich velvet glancing around him alertly.

She knew this vampire.

"L-laurent?" Bella stuttered, her heart thumping hard in her chest.

The dark-skinned man smiled, but it wasn't in a nice way. It verged on sinister to her line of thinking. His nostrils flared only a little and his smile grew wider.

"You always did have such a mouthwatering smell." At the echoing growls, Laurent's smile dropped. His eyes grew fierce, if not a little fearful. "Quiet, dog. Human mates always carry a more intoxicating scent than Normal humans. They were born towards the Supernatural and that makes them so…enticing. Such strong blood trapped in such fragile bodies."

Bella leaned back into Seth's side as Jared emerged from the opposite tree-line where he'd been gathering up the tools they'd used to chop down their tree, his body tensed and ready to kill. He hadn't bothered with the half-shift. He'd resorted to his fully wolf form immediately upon sensing the danger present. Her gaze jerked to her brown-furred mate, noting that the grey tipping the fur around his face was quivering with every snarl ripping through his maw. She could feel his and Seth's complete and utter hatred of the vampire before them, could all but taste the bloodlust on her tongue it was so strong.

"Wait guys. Please."

Jared barked viciously, but stood still instead of advancing. Laurent, she noted absentmindedly, had backed up a pace from where she stood. Despite the front he put on it was obvious that he wasn't immune to the power and threat emanating from her men.

"Why are you here, Laurent? Did Victoria send you?"

"Of course." At the bold response she felt only shock, but her mates snarled deeply. Seth's body quaked behind her. The vampire's lips ticked up once more. "I'm no fool, though. That female has a penchant for escaping every situation she finds herself in, but she seems to overlook my proclivity towards survival in the face of those higher than myself on the food chain."

"Say what you came for, leech, before I rip your throat out and coax your burning corpse into speaking." Bella jolted violently as she was suddenly jerked off of her feet and into the arms of one of her men caught in the half-shift. Glancing back she could see that it was Sam, his black-as-pitch fur ticking along the white fur of her coat. Jacob rounded around Seth as Sam settled her into sitting upon Seth's wide back. He was still in his half-shirt, but just barely. He was shaking so violently that his outline was beginning to blur.

"Allah." Laurent whispered, his blood-red eyes widened beyond recognition. "I had thought…I have not faced a Prime since my years as a Newborn."

"He should have slaughtered you then and saved me the trouble." Jake seemed to lose control of his need to change over in that moment, his body expanding horrendously before her eyes. Before he lost his ability to speak clearly he quite literally barked out "speak", the sharpness of the command burning in her ears.

"Victoria sought me out in Alaska where I was staying with the Denali clan. She was quite…adamant in her need to see me. You see, she holds a grudge against you and the bronze-haired one, Edward, for ending her mate."

"He had no trouble trying to end me!" Bella snapped, her jaw tightening in her anger. With jerking movements, entirely aware of Sam guarding her front and Seth braced beneath her in case they needed to flee, she pulled up her sleeves to reveal the silvered bite mark Laurent's coven-mate had given her not so long ago. "He shot me up with his venom and was going to Change me. He was aiming to drain me dry before that!"

"It matters not to her, little Induja." She startled at hearing that title slipping from his mouth. She felt the surprise, too, in her mates, but they didn't show any outward signs of it. Laurent's eyes brightened. "Induja are not just born-mates of Shifters, Isabella. They are Supernatural through-and-through. They are sometimes mated to Vampires as well. Perhaps even Sidhe or Otherfolke, though those are rarely-bred breeds nowadays."

Bella clenched her jaw to keep herself from asking after the rest of the Supernatural community. It was beyond tempting, of course, to learn more about the secret world hidden in this 'human-dominated' society, but there was a more pressing matter she needed to know about.

"What did Victoria want to see you about, Laurent?"

"She wanted me to…keep an eye on you." A stray, bitter wind knocked a few of his dreadlocks over his shoulder and sent a shudder through her body. She tucked herself more securely into her coat and gloves before pulling her front more fully into Seth's back. "Rather, she wanted me to perform a little reconnaissance on you and your Vegetarian family."

While the others growled in fury at her having been referred to as the Cullens' in any way, Bella spoke as loudly as she could over the ruckus. "As you can plainly see I'm not with the Cullens any longer. I, how would you say, traded up for a furrier crowd?" She mocked the vampire lightly, her voice far more steady than it had been when she'd first seen him across the forest.

Give the guy credit, at least he's chuckling.

"You did seem to be such a darling little thing when we first met, Induja. I can see now how you fit so well into that coven. You were born to live in the Supernatural world. You were born to lead within it." He tapped at his temple. "You see, I have a certain gift, too. Not a particularly wonderful gift, nor a very useful one to anyone else, but I've always been one to sense power. Not physical power or mental power, but the power someone unleashes upon the world. Line up a million men before me and I could point out those meant for leadership and those that are better off as sheep."

"Would you quit blathering, Laurent?!" A husky, feminine voice called from nearby. Bella head lurched towards the sound. She was more than a little put-off to see a pale-faced woman with hair as rich in color as fine gold walking assuredly up behind Laurent. Her grace was that of one granted immortality, her eyes as vivid in color as her eyes. As soon as she was pulled up behind the male vampire, Bella watched as the woman wrapped her arms around his waist and up to his chest where she fanned her hands out open over his shoulders. Her head poked out over one shoulder, her temple leaning into the side of his head. "My name is Irina. I am from the Denali Coven. Laurent is my mate."

"I'm Bella," she found herself saying, her shock taking over once again. The others seemed to have known that Luarent wasn't alone, which wasn't an astonishing fact to her. No doubt her other men were running to hold a perimeter in the woods in case either of the two vampire decided to flee or attack. She could feel them nearing, having come at the first signs of stress from her and most likely a mental call from their brothers. In all likelihood Evy's and Issa's mates were back guarding La Push itself allowing their leaders to face off against the fanged duo.

"Isabella Swan. Alleged mate of Edward Cullen." Irina's smile was a tad lighter than that of her mate's when the wolves growled at her. "Alleged, doggies. Damn, but you lot are choosy in what you wish to hear."

"Enough, Irina." Laurent warned, worry evident in his tone as he backed them both away from Jacob, who was clenching his claw-tipped fingers into his palms. "When I discovered you were an Induja to a pack of wolves, all Alpha males to trump that, I was enticed into switching my allegiances."

"You can't stay here," Bella stated firmly, her hands fisting into Seth's back. "The presence of Vampires is what triggers our men to Shift. I won't have more innocent men who could live Normal lives Shifting when I know that it could have been prevented if you all would just stay away from the territories."

"Understood." Both vampires nodded with a single head jerk, but Laurent's face was as hard as the rocks hanging over the ocean waters. "I had not planned on staying here, anyway. My allegiance is to those in strongest command and that is not Victoria, no matter how much she wishes it were so. We will be returning to Denali this night.

"What needs to be told is that Victoria is amassing an army." At those words she felt every one of her men stiffen with fury, their bodies unable to tremble they were so overcome by their own rage. "She is hunting throughout the surrounding states and picking the best stock of humans for her Newborn army. She plans to bring them here and destroy you and all that you love. She is as vindictive as James was sadistic."

"Do you know anything else? Anything that could help us?" She asked flatly. Outwardly she forced a strong, steady appearance. Inwardly she was trembling and wanting to curl up into a ball in order to hide away from all of this.

"No. She does not share the details in her little Movements." He tapped a finger to his temple. "She's smart when she wishes to be, Miss Swan. I travelled with she and James for long enough to know that much. Keep your wolves on alert. It is anyone's guess when that female will fire the proverbial gun."

Both vampires turned and began to leave to the denser parts of the forest.

"Irena," Bella called out to the beautiful blonde. The woman turned her head so that she was at least partially regarding her. "I'm going out on a limb here and believing that you and your family have been in contact with the Cullen's since they left Forks. Am I correct?"

"You wouldn't be wrong," she smirked back. Bella forced herself to ignore the deeply-buried urge to teach the other woman some respect. She didn't need to cause a mini-war between her Pack and these two Wanderers. "We believed it was just a short visit, however, since they never mentioned leaving their beloved human behind."

"I would very much appreciate it if you passed on word to the Cullen's for me if you see them again." For an instant Irina didn't look as though she was going to willingly play messenger-girl. Bella dreaded the thought of the blonde refusing. The Cullen Coven needed to be contacted and Bella knew without a shadow of a doubt that she had no way of getting in contact with them on her own.

Irina nodded minutely in ascent. "The former Treaty has changed. With the new Pack there is a whole new set of rules. They can't come back to Forks. There is a minimal distance that they need to keep from the Reservation. If they come within a hundred miles of La Push – well, we'll have to cross that bridge if we come to it."

The woman remained silent, her topaz eyes assessing her mounted form. Finally she smirked, her whole face lighting from the inside with her mirth.

"You know, girl, the whole Coven had wondered what drew Edward to you. I think I see a bit of it now. You are a powerhouse of a human, Isabella Swan. I don't think anyone else would be capable of handling her own Tribe of Shapeshifters, let alone being mated to seven Alphas." The blonde winked. "I rue the day I ever have to face up against you, human."

"Hopefully you won't have to, Irena." Bella meant what she said. The other woman, despite having lost her mortality, seemed to be level-headed and bright. She didn't exude any animosity towards any of them. Nothing beyond irritation at any rate. She didn't want to have to be the one to sign the death warrant for anyone, human or otherwise, unless there was no other choice. Against one of her men Irina might stand a chance…against the whole Tribe she would meet her final death. Her 'immortality' would be proven false.

"I think it best if we leave now, mate," Laurent spoke softly, his eyes zipping between her men frantically. "I believe our welcome was overstayed the moment we stepped foot on this land."

"Goodbye Laurent. Irina." She watched them go in silence, her eyes trained on their backs. The duo made a rather striking couple. Laurent's darkly colored body and Irina's radiating light. Such opposites attracting, at least physically, was astonishing.

Briefly she wondered if Vampire mating was the same as Shifter mating. Did one of their souls call to another? Was it more of a conscious and willing mating? Were the Fates vacant in the finding of their mates? Was it by sight, smell, or otherwise that they found attraction to their chosen one?

She supposed it didn't matter.

She was Induja and mated to seven Alpha Shapeshifters. Vampire mating was none of her business.

The vampiric duo looked back at her at the same moment, as if having timed it to do so together, just as they were about to pass into the cover of the trees and their freedom. There was a particular glint to their red and gold eyes that spoke of quiet faith and assuredness, a kind of grudging respect that was felt far more than seen. Bella had the sneaking suspicion that she'd somehow earned a place in these two vampire's eyes as something more than just a Vegetarian Vampire Coven's little human tagalong.

Something to think on later.

"That was interesting," she spoke to no-one in particular, her words hushed. She watched on as her men progressively eased their postures, Jared, Sam, and Jacob going as far as to shift back to human form sans cut-offs as the threat passed.

Jacob shuddered as his eyes came to land onto her seated form. His eyes glowed with the wolf hidden beneath his human façade. She wasn't threatened and she knew well that she had no reason to be. They wouldn't intentionally hurt her – never with intent and never again in the way they had scantly a month ago.

"I don't like this," he growled out to her, his entire body coiled as tight as a bow string ready to snap. Spittle all but dripped from his mouth. He was livid. "You are in constant danger. My mate is forever threatened by the Supernatural world. Gods fucking damn it!" His voice echoed around them like the thunder she'd thought of earlier when the two had entered the cramped clearing. Jacob, her Alpha and Prime, her mate, was radiating enough power and authority to be deemed a God in his own rights.

Strangely she found herself almost unwillingly aroused by the thinly leashed power he held within him and the loving, descent man that contained it all. Naked or not, Jacob Black was one was the sexiest men she'd ever seen in her short life.

"I'm safe." She had to clear her throat to dispel the huskiness that laced her words. Several times. "You won't let anyone hurt me, Jacob. None of you will. I know that."

"I don't like you being in danger. You're supposed to be safe. Always!" He charged forward and pulled her from Seth's back. His arms curled around her in both a sheltering move and one aimed to comfort – whether it was he or she that needed the comforting was up for debate. Perhaps it was a bit of both?

"I am safe." Her hands slid over his tensed back soothingly. With a few well-placed strokes they met no resistance. His body began to unwind under her tender touch. "You make me safe."

"Spirits, Bella," Jacob breathed, his voice now trembling. His head bowed so that he could trail his nose through the hair he revealed after nudging her hood aside. "We can't lose you. We can't."

Tears prickled her eyes. She turned her face into his hot chest so that she could hide her face better from the others surrounding her. She didn't want them to see the weakness on her face. She didn't want them to see her breaking down in the face of their fears of losing her. They'd very nearly lost her by their own hands, would have lost her if the Fates hadn't assured their bond held firmly. She doubted they would survive a second loss.

Isabella didn't believe for an instant that she could survive it, either.

"You won't." She spoke the words with all of the assuredness she could force into her normally soft voice. Her hands clenched once on Jake's back. "I won't let it happen."

"And that, Mesdames et Messieurs, is an Induja!"